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Don Tutich; Controversial San Gabriel Police Chief

October 26, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don S. Tutich, career law enforcement officer who began as a Burbank patrolman and rose to become the controversial chief of the San Gabriel Police Department for 14 years, has died. He was 69.

Tutich died Oct. 16 in San Gabriel, where he spent his entire life.

He retired as police chief in 1989, a year after an intradepartmental squabble erupted before an acrimonious 1988 San Gabriel City Council election.

The San Gabriel Police Officers Assn., consisting of 30 rank-and-file patrolmen, unanimously cast a vote of no confidence in Tutich in January 1988, saying that he ran the department with restrictive and antiquated policies. They said Tutich refused to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies, refused to apply for federal or state block grants that could help modernize the department and refused to recruit Asian American officers, although San Gabriel's Asian American community was burgeoning. The union also charged that 911 emergency telephone calls went unanswered because of inadequate staffing.

The mayor and City Council expressed support for Tutich, and his 14 management staff officers issued their own statement noting that they were appalled at the action taken by the union.

"Chief Tutich," the management officers said, "is highly respected by all law enforcement agencies and enjoys a personal reputation for honesty and integrity and for operating the Police Department under these guidelines."

In an interview with The Times shortly after the no-confidence vote, Tutich denied all union charges. He said his department worked frequently with multi-agency task forces to deal with burglaries, drugs and gang activity, adding: "We've never refused to cooperate. We're involved with other agencies on a day-to-day basis."

He said he had applied for numerous block grants, but was often turned down because the city lacked the necessary matching funds, and denied that 911 calls ever went unanswered, adding that no complaints had ever been received from the public.

A three-member panel appointed by the City Council absolved Tutich in 1989 of the charges that he was an ineffective police chief. Despite his vindication, Tutich retired that October, saying that he wanted to spend more time breeding and training racehorses, an operation he had launched in 1984.

Tutich, who considered running for the San Gabriel City Council, devoted his political efforts during his retirement largely to working for national candidates.

He became disillusioned with President Clinton, writing a letter to the editor published by The Times in 1994 stating: "Candidate Clinton, 1992--a force to be reckoned with. President Clinton, 1994--a farce to be reckoned with."

In 1996, Tutich campaigned in New Hampshire and in California for the ill-fated candidacy of conservative presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan.

"I liked him from the moment of his famous speech at the 1992 convention, when he talked about our value system and fighting crime, taking back our cities block by block, street by street," he told the Washington Post in Manchester, N.H., before that state's primary election.

Before he was hired as San Gabriel's police chief May 1, 1976, Tutich spent nearly two decades with the Burbank Police Department, rising from patrolman to captain.

Tutich is survived by his wife, Jeanne, and a brother, Richard.

Memorial contributions may be sent to St. Francis High School, in care of Father Matthew Elshoff, 200 Foothill Blvd., La Canada-Flintridge 91011-3798.

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